TCOG Q & A with farmer Samantha Klinck: 2 farm sites, near Jasper and Frankville, ON
“Farming is not only a long game, but one of constant observation. As we observe improvements in our soil, we also witness improvements in our livestock. The better we can maintain and improve soil quality, the more we avoid health problems in our animals. Prevention is key in organic livestock production, and the single biggest thing we can do to prevent illness is make sure the soil and plants are at their full potential which then keeps everyone healthy. Seeing the soil on our first farm go from rocky and lifeless to soil with depth and the ability to maintain our dairy cows has been an amazing experience.” –Sam Klinck
Samantha and Aaron Klinck purchased their first farm in Ontario (Kitley township) in 2001, relocating from Saskatchewan. They now own and manage two certified organic farms located about six km apart, totaling about 230 acres. They raise a wide variety of livestock, have a greenhouse, gardens and some orchards.
TCOG editors: Who lives and works on your farm? For the first decade, it was only Aaron and me, doing everything by hand. We cleared land with shovels and wheelbarrows, then eventually, with pigs. Chickens were our manure spreaders. As our farm and customer base grew, we were able to purchase a tractor. We also began hosting WWOOFers to lighten the workload and, later, more interns to work with us from April to October each year. My sister now farms with us full-time. We are blessed to have regular help from other friends and farmers, especially each time we are harvesting hay!
TCOG: Tell us about your livestock. Compared to most farms, our herds and flocks are small in size, but they are very diverse—they are the key to our success!
Our Berkshire breeding boar, his three sows and their twice-a-year litters comprise our woodland pig population. They help clear land and provide us with some exceptionally tasty chops! Our dairy herd consists of four Jersey cows and their calves. With careful planning to stagger their lactations, they can provide milk year round for the family; the rest is used to supplement our pigs. Milk and whey are some of the most economical and nutritious feeds you can produce for pigs. Our 20 head of Dexter cattle provide us with delectable beef.
The newest additions to the farm are a British Milking Sheep ram and six Katahdin ewes. On the poultry front, we currently raise Shaver Red hens, and Heavy Red broilers, but are in the process of switching to naturalized breeds that reproduce on their own. We have Ridley Bronze Turkeys, and a mix of ducks: Muscovy, Indian Runner, Appleyards, and Khaki Campbell’s. Maremma sheepdogs guard our flocks and herds at both farms. Since we’ve added them to the farm, our losses have been almost non-existent. We also raise honeybees.
TCOG: Tell us about the soil on the land you farm. The soil types and depths for the two farms are radically different. One property (Farmington Loam) is mostly surrounded by cedar and swamp, and has thin, lean and rocky soil. The other property (Grenville and North Gower Loam) has rich, fertile soil—anyone living in the area knows this property has some of the best hay lands for miles. We are blessed to be stewards of it.
TCOG: What are your main soil quality-related concerns? We purchased our first farm because it was affordable. Quite early on, we realized that that creating gardens and orchards would require long-term, extensive soil building.
A few years ago we acquired our second farm property, which has much better soil and little to no rocks. On this property, our focus is on maintaining fertility and productivity.
TCOG: How have you addressed your soil quality concerns? We purchased our first farm during the winter and as a result, we couldn’t properly assess what we were getting into. We were inexperienced enough to think that any land was suitable for farming. When we started out that first spring, we could see that the land had suffered considerably at the hands of the previous owners. Topsoil had recently been removed by machinery; garbage had been dumped or strewn; old pastures and fences had been abandoned and overgrown since the 70’s.
We naively thought we could just leave the land alone and it would recover. Our initial method was to plant things and if they couldn’t survive without minimal help, they weren’t meant to grow there. We put in a few gardens but nothing ever did very well.
In the first two or three years, Aaron planted thousands of saplings: maple, pine, spruce—anything he thought might grow well and begin to heal the land. Trees form natural windbreaks that help prevent soil erosion, provide habitat for birds that then act as pest control. Leaves dropping from trees each fall add organic matter to soil. Some of these trees—now well over 20 feet tall—provide shade for our grazing animals.
Learning as time went on, our efforts focused on reclaiming the old pastures. With our equipment limited to a shovel, rake, and wheelbarrow, we started with rock-picking open areas, removing small trees (mostly prickly ash) and shrubs, pulling thistles and other weeds and mowing regularly.
Our second farm property has been farmed continuously since the 1800’s. Our main focus there is fencing, in order to improve our rotational grazing. Our goal is to have thick, rich pasture to include in our hay and grain rotation. Each year, as we improve our grazing rotation, we see more and more plant crowns and less bare soil after grazing or harvesting. Our herds have ample pasture; we are able to grow not only all the hay we need, but also some small grain crops to supplement feed rations for our pigs and fowl.
See related photo gallery:
Moving flocks of chickens across newly cleared areas was the real eye-opener for us. The improvement in the grass was nothing short of amazing. We brought in pigs to help clear out other overgrown pasture areas, which eventually allowed us to add dairy cows. The dairy cows feed the pigs, which in turn clear more land for the cows. With the help of our livestock, we’ve been able to add almost a foot or more of organic matter in some areas on this property!
We have had real success planting a mixed grain crop of peas, oats and Red Fife wheat, sowing a hay crop underneath. We harvest it all off into small square bales that our livestock love! First, they pick out and eat the grain, then the leafy hay, and the remaining straw becomes bedding.
On our property lines we leave many buffer areas on the farm untouched; they provide habitat for natural plant and animal species. The edges of such areas provide our grazing animals a much wider variety of food and correspondingly, a better nutritional profile, reducing our need for off-farm inputs to supplement their diet. We also harvest many indigenous herbs for personal use and for our CSA members from the edges of buffer areas.
TCOG: Do you soil test? Only in the most basic way: We put soil in a jar with water and shake. Each year we do this, however, we see that there is more organic matter. For us, seeing the health of the animals is the most important test. If our animals are in good condition year round, with glossy coats and no health problems, we know the soil and the plants growing in it are doing well.
TCOG: How has learning from the soil affected the evolution of your operation? Our first farm required animals for the soil to be brought back to life. For the ecosystem on our farm to flourish, we’ve learned that having diversity in our herds and flocks goes hand-in-hand with encouraging plant species diversity. Such diversity has helped us create a very unique year-round CSA program: we offer our members many types of meats, vegetables, fruits, herbs, honey and maple syrup—as well as things like bone broth, tallow, lard, herbal skincare products, beeswax salves and even tree saplings.
As time passes, and we continue to improve or maintain soil health, we can see how our farm can become fully and truly self-sustaining, without the need for off-farm inputs: the animals care for the land, and the land cares for the animals.
Samantha Klinck is the author of Farrow to Finish: Pigs on your Organic Farm.
Learn more about the farm at: www.funnyduckfarms.com/
Don’t miss TCOG’s related photo tour of Funny Duck Farms! Soil building with livestock- 10 photos